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25 September 2022

Felix Abraham. Part II: Les Perversions Sexuelles

Felix Abraham: life

                          book


Depending where you find a citation of this book, the assumed major author is any one of three.
  • Felix Abraham, translated by Pierre Vachet. Les Perversions Sexuelles, d’apres les travaux de Magnus Hirschfeld. Paris: François Aldor, 1931.

  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Perversions sexuelles, édité par Felix Abraham et traduit par Pierre Vachet, François Aldor, Paris, 1931. Worldcat.

  • Pierre Vachet. Perversions sexuelles, d’après l’enseignement du docteur Magnus Hirschfeld, par son premier assistant le docteur Félix Abraham. Paris: François Aldor, 1931. (See in a bibliography)

The book is a French translation from the German. The presumption is that Abraham selected from Hirschfeld’s writings and perhaps added material by himself. Unable to get the book published in German(y) he arranged for Vachet to translate it. I have not been able to discover the original German version - no such is listed in WorldCat. There is no mention of either Vachet or this book in Rainer Herrn’s otherwise thorough Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. It is conceivable that neither Hirschfeld nor Abraham knew of the book in advance, and it was edited by Vachet based on Hirschfeld’s publications and Abraham’s 1931 paper on the surgeries upon Dorchen Richter and Toni Ebel.

Who was Pierre Vachet (1892-1990)?

He was a French doctor who wrote about wellness and sexuality, and lived to the age of 98. He was director of l'École de psychologie and of la Revue de psychologie appliquée. He and Hirschfeld had first met when German and French nudist groups had joint meetings.

Some of his other books are:

  • Les troubles mentaux consécutifs au shock des explosifs modernes: contribution à l'étude des psychoses de guerre. MD Thesis, Faculté de médecine de Paris, 1915.

  • L'inquiétude sexuelle. B. Grasset, Paris, 1927.

  • La nudité et la physiologie sexuelle. Vivre intégralement", Paris, 1928.

  • Connaissance de la vie sexuelle. Nouvelle Ed, 1930.

  • L'énigme de la femme. B. Grasset, Paris, 1931.

  • Les Travestis. B. Grasset, Paris, 1934.

  • La Psychologie sexuelle. B. Grasset, Paris, 1959.

  • Les maladies de la vie moderne. Hachette, 1962.

Contents of Les Perversions Sexuelles

  1. Organic and Physiological Conditions in Sexual Life

  2. Normal Sex Life

  3. Impotence

  4. Ageing and rejuvenation

  5. Onanism

  6. Automonosexualism

  7. Infantalism

  8. Necrophilia

  9. Gerontophilia

  10. Zoophilia

  11. Homosexuality, Lesbian love, Bisexuality

  12. Transvestism

  13. Fetishism

  14. Sadism, Masochism Metatropism

  15. Exhibitionism

  16. Sexual Crimes

A detailed reading of Chp 12: Transvestism

Remember that this is 1931. Words other than the transvest* words had been proposed - Eonism, Geschlechtsübergänge, Seelenzwitter, Seelischer Transsexualismus - but they were not taken into general use. Transvestite and Transvestism would remain the umbrella words until the mid 1960s. In French the words are Travesti and Travestitisme.

“The types of intermediate sexual nature which are the most difficult to understand and also the most difficult to treat, are those whose disposition has been summarized in the notion of transvestism. To give a definition of this abnormal type, we may say that it consists of persons who display by their external appearance another sex than their own. It would be erroneous (we want to say this at the outset) to believe that this display is in reality a deception and is nothing more than a disguise of clothing. On the contrary, we are dealing with a transformation of the whole person, manifesting itself, it is true, predominantly in clothing, but whose essence must be sought much further in the whole of the emotional life. As well as the external aspect, this has been transposed into a form proper to the other sex. For this reason, not only in scientific circles but above all among transvestites themselves, another name was sought, the term transvestism referring only to an apparent form and not to the essence of the phenomenon.”(p241)

This is then followed by a short summary of the life of Charlotte d’Eon, emphasizing d’Eon’s supposed involvement with women, followed by the comment “We already see in this biography a peculiarity of extreme importance, namely that the sexuality of transvestites can be of an absolutely normal nature and does not necessarily have to take the homosexual direction as was once believed. The transvestite tendency is not acquired in the course of one's life as is often believed, but is innate to the man and simply becomes stronger from year to year or rather from decade to decade. Just as in the case of homosexuality an event brings out the latent tendency, so a purely superficial event can give rise to the outbreak of the transvestite tendency.”(p244)

“Nor is transvestism confined to certain environments; it has been thought that it is the big city that offers transvestites a favourable terrain and that transvestism predominantly affects the wealthy classes. Both hypotheses are false. The many transvestites I have seen are spread over all strata of the population and even all nations. The unique situation of the Institute of Sexual Sciences is that all men with these inclinations come to us from all parts of the world. We are therefore in a position to form an idea of the internationality of this inclination.”(p245)

This is followed by an account of Dörchen Richter, here referred to as ‘Rudolf (Dora E.)’, concluding with Dorchen’s vaginoplasty.

“In this case, we see how an inclination manifests itself from the age of six, and is maintained throughout life without anything being able to hinder its development and intensity; on the contrary, it becomes ever stronger and leads to ever wider consequences. Nowhere else is the achievement pursued so intensely and so tirelessly to the point of final success as in the case of transvestites.”(p247)

This is followed by an account of Gert B: “She now lives full-time in male clothing; she strives to have the masculinity of her sex recognised and to obtain the right to use a male name. In this case, too, the body has been modified, first by surgical removal of the breasts, then by removal of the ovaries and by testicular transplantation. Apart from the new shape of the breasts, the transformation by the second operation was not as spectacular as in the previous case, but the cessation of menstruation already meant a psychological benefit for the patient. She is indistinguishable from her male companions, walks with long strides, speaks with a deep voice, is of a rough and hard character and bears the masculine imprint in her entire personality.”(p247-8)

Then we are given “Ten typical groups of transvestites” - although they are not mutually exclusive:

  1. Total (complete) transvestites. “They are inclined to dress and behave like the other sex”. (p248)

  2. Extreme transvestites. “These most accentuated forms of total transvestism are found among those who would like to modify, not only their artificial garments, but also their natural garments, the epidermis of their bodies. … We observe the highest degree of this type of body transvestism in those who wish to obtain a complete transformation of their genitals, and therefore, above all, want to have a sex that corresponds to their mentality. … These cases are much more frequent than is otherwise suspected.” (p249)

  3. Partial transvestism. “In this case, parts of the clothing of the other sex are used to a very variable extent. Some men are already satisfied when they wear long female stockings, others female linen, etc.” (p249)

  4. Transvestites by name. These are those who wish to bear a first name of the other sex (such as "George Sand").

  5. Constant transvestites. “They are inclined to constantly assume the external appearance of the other sex; men of this species are already opposed, as boys, to the first pair of trousers, while women want to "wear the breeches" at an early age. This lasts uniformly until death. There are many transvestites, both male and female, whose true sex was only discovered after their death, to the great amazement of those around them.” (p250)

  6. Periodic transvestites. “In them, the inclination to have the appearance and reputation of the other sex alternates with indifference and even contempt for the latter. I have known several who, on different occasions, were seized with such an aversion to their transvestism, that one day they threw into the fire wigs, costumes, shoes.” (p250) In connection with this a short story, now long forgotten, is mentioned. Hans Heinz Ewers, ‘The Story of Baron Joseph-Maria de Friedel’.

  7. Narcissistic transvestites. “These find their full satisfaction in taking the form of the other sex; their own image in the guise of the other sex (for example, in the mirror) triggers in them feelings of pleasure of a more or less conscious erotic character.” (p250)

  8. Metatropic transvestites - the coupling of a feminine man with a masculine woman. Again Georges Sand is named in connection with her involvement with Alfred de Musset and then Frédéric Chopin.

  9. Bisexual transvestites. “In accordance with their own duality, they find the types they like in both sexes, but more often in one than the other.” (p251)

  10. Homosexual transvestites. “The sexual instinct which, in them, is expressed by the external aspect, takes the form of a penchant for male individuals.” (p251) The example given is the very unusual one of Alma de Paradeda who killed herself in 1906 when her fiancé challenged her gender . (The text says “Paradéda whom I knew personally very well”. Paradéda killed herself in 1906 when Abraham was 5 years old, so the ‘I’ is obviously Hirschfeld.)

The 10 types or groups are previously found in Hirschfeld’s Geschlechtskunde. I. Band: Die körperseelischen Grundlagen, 1926: 592-4.

“Although there are some transvestites whose eccentric appearance gives rise to the idea that a mental disorder is the cause of their inclination, we cannot generalise these particular cases and accept the opinion of the famous psychiatrist C. Westphal who thought that transvestism is a kind of periodic mental disorder. He supported this theory with a case, mentioned in Kraftt-Ebing's Psychopathia sexualis. It may be that his opinion is motivated by this case, but the generalisation is certainly a mistake. The term "contrary sexual feeling" which he used then, is used today mainly for homosexuality.”(p252)

Then we are given an account of TF who got what wanted, and then lost it: “35 years old and has been living the life of a woman for over 15 years. For more than 8 years he has been looking for a job where he can satisfy his feminine inclination, but he has not been successful. In the end he was, through us, placed in a fashion house where he had the opportunity to make ladies' clothes and hats. At first all went well, but after about two months he began to make hats and clothes for his own use, at first only after working hours, later all day, so that he could not cope with the work he was given. Despite the warnings of the management, he did not amend his behaviour, but continued to work only for himself; he was therefore discharged, even though for many years he had made every effort to find work and had a situation in which he could be at ease. This case shows to what extent the transvestite is entangled in his passion and wants to externalise, in his work, only his personality and his inclination.” (p253-4)

Then the case of A.Z.: “62 years old, is a shoemaker by profession, but currently unemployed. Z. has been married for 35 years and has two adult daughters, one of whom is married and the other works. Already before his marriage, Z. was aware of his transvestite tendency, but he believed - a very common opinion - that he could be "cured" by marriage. This hope was, of course, illusory and, what is more, the instinct became stronger with the years. While at first he only occasionally transvested, he later wanted to live full-time as a woman and be recognised as such. His wife showed neither understanding nor indulgence for this inclination and cut short all attempts at explanation by saying: "I did not marry a woman, but a man". The mania became so strong that he decided to separate from his wife and divorce her, despite 35 years of marriage, in order to be able to fully indulge the addiction that so imperiously dominated him.” (p255)

The author comments: “it is a fact that the transvestite prefers to give up everything but his passion. Not only do marriages break up, but I have seen men give up the best and highest positions in order to continue to live their lives as they please; what is most striking in the case of A. Z., is the unlimited egotism which is at the bottom of every transvestite and which makes him forget everything around him. As soon as he has decided to wear the right clothes all the time, he finds his way to our Institute for the first time.”(p255)

Transvestitenscheins are discussed although without using the term or its French equivalent. “In Berlin, authorities are already familiar with a large number of such cases. In this way, they are more willing than the provincial authorities to make it easier for transvestites to wear their desired clothes. The competent department in Berlin, at the Prefecture of Police, issues certificates which originally stated that such a person has been authorised to wear female clothing, or male clothing. The text of this attestation has since proved inadequate and the procedure of giving this "security certificate" the form of an authorisation has been abandoned; its content, which is still in force, states that such and such a person is known to the authorities as wearing women's or men's clothing. In this way, the authorisation was evaded and transvestites were still able to legitimise themselves in case they were stopped in the street by police officers, which is not uncommon because, of course, secondary male sexual characteristics, such as a beard or vigorous muscular development, contrast with the clothing, so that the resulting scandal often leads to their arrest. The certificate is intended to avoid these unfortunate consequences.” (p256)

Then we are told of one in the Great War who was not careful enough, with almost fatal results: “One of our patients, who had been a transvestite for many years, was called up and served in the navy. He took advantage of his leave to live as a woman, but he made the mistake of returning, at the end of his leave, to his home port in female clothing. Already in Berlin, at the station ticket office, it was noticed that a sailor in female clothing was asking for his ticket, and it followed that on his arrival in Wilhelmshaven, he was arrested by security agents, who assumed that he was a sailor who wanted to spy in female clothing. All his claims were in vain. He was transferred to a court martial and sentenced to death. It was only at the last moment, when he asked for an attestation from our Institute where he had been known for years, that he was saved. ”(p257)

There are then some general comments about trans persons.

And then finally at the end there is a short account of Toni Ebel, referred to as “A.E., painter”. The statement “The patient came to me” could have written by either Hirschfeld or Abraham. (Remember that Abraham wrote at the end of his paper on the surgeries upon Dorchen Richter and Toni Ebel: “Both cases are part of a larger book that I am working on at this time. I have extracted these cases because they seem to me of principle value and general interest.”) The odd placement of this final paragraph, away from all the other case studies, would seem to be an attempt to conform to Abraham’s promise, whether by himself or by Vachet.


There were also two other cut and paste anthologies of Hirschfeld’s writings in this period:

  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Sexual Anomalies and Perversions: Physical and Psychological Development and Treatment : a Summary of the Works of the Late Magnus Hirschfeld. London: Francis Aldor, 1936. Discussion.

Note the same publisher as Les Perversions Sexuelles.

This was put together by Arthur Koestler and Norman Haire three years after the destruction of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, and for the next 55 years, until Michael A. Lombardi-Nash’s 1991 translation of Die Transvestiten, was the one and only Hirschfeld work in English translation.

An earlier anthology was edited by Lothar Goldmann, a Berlin doctor who had relocated to New York. In 1924/5 he published a series of essays "Über das Wesen des Umkleidungstriebes" in the journal Geschlecht und Gesellschaft (Vol. XII), which was later published as a book. The only cases described are all taken from the unpublished 1921 dissertation by Hirschfeld’s colleague Hans Abraham (not known to be related to Felix).


  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Sexualpathologie: Ein Lehrbuch für Ärzte und Studierende Teil 2. A Marcus & R Webers Verlag, 1918.

  • Hans Abraham Der weibliche Transvestitismus. Dissertation. Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität zu Berlin. 1912.

  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Geschlechtskunde. I. Band: Die körperseelischen Grundlagen. Julius Puttman, 1926.

  • Felix Abraham. “Genitalumwandlungen an zwei männlichen Transvestiten”. Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, 18: 223-226. 1931. English translation as “Genital Reassignment on Two Male Transvestites”. The International Journal of Trangenderism. 2, 1. Jan-Mar 1998. Archive.

  • Gonzague de Larocque-Latour. “Girl or Boy? The French Birth of the Word Sexologie (1901–1912)” in Alain Giami & Sharman Levinson (eds) Histories of Sexology: Between Science and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021: 200, 206.

  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Giessen, 2005.

1 comment:

  1. The lack of a German original may be significant. However remember that O P Gilbert's Women in Men's Guise, 1932, was published only in the English translation, never in the French original.

    ReplyDelete

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